When I write romance, I tend to fall in love with the male lead. “A Good Match” is no exception, but I had no idea how hard my first readers were going to fall for Lord George Carleton.
I’ll admit there was real-life inspiration. When Benedict Cumberbatch showed up in the media months ago with a slick, new super-short haircut, I fell out of my office chair. George was born (and, yeah, I even stole one of Benny’s four names, Carleton, for my character).
Now that I’ve admitted to the shallow inspiration for this story, I can attest that it’s so much more than some crappy fan fiction. Our heroine, Miss Alice Abbott, is a writer and feminist long before her time, and she takes shit from nobody–not even George, no matter how much she likes the look of him.
Alice fears the manacles of marriage and with good reason. So will Lord Carleton woo her, or will she send him back to London empty-handed?
I’ve given you a tease below, but for the whole story, you’ll have to pay up over at Romance Magazine. Trust me, you’ll want to see how this one turns out. (And, for the record, this is possibly the first PG-rated story I’ve ever written. Cheers!)
Teaser scene from “A Good Match”
By Sara Dobie Bauer
(Published by Romance Magazine.)
Amidst the crowds of well-dressed, rich young women and their hopeful mothers and fathers, Tilly Fox found Alice with speed. If Alice had a friend, it would be Tilly, although their relationship had changed greatly since Tilly’s marriage to the older, wiser Lord Deacon Fox.
Tilly grabbed onto Alice. “I’m so happy you’re here. Deacon won’t stop parading me around like a show horse.”
They linked arms and moved further into the party.
“My husband said he saw you out riding today by yourself. I can’t believe Gertrude allows such a thing. As your guardian, she should know better.”
“Oh, Tilly, Gertrude has much bigger things to worry about than her niece being stolen by a highwayman. Like her cross stitch, for instance.”
“She is too soft with you.”
“Since becoming a wife, you fret too much,” Alice said.
“That’s all I do: fret about the dinner setting, the window treatments, the servants … Deacon trying to sneak into my room at night, the ghastly man.”
Alice shushed her friend but laughed despite herself.
“Speaking of men, no sight of Lord Carleton as of yet. All these women here waiting, and I hardly believe he exists.”
“Perhaps he doesn’t,” Alice said. “Then, the young women of Duxbury can all go home and stop smiling and cooing like pigeons.”
“Oh, Alice, you have such a distaste for these things. Just wait: one day, you’ll meet some man, and you’ll ride into the sunset with him on the back of his horse.”
“I can ride my own horse, thank you.” Alice kept her hand tightly around her clutch.
“You know Deacon can hardly ride a horse anymore, what with his grand bottom. I swear it grows by the day.” Tilly laughed, but Alice knew she made no joke.
Across the ballroom, Gertrude spoke to the Dawson’s—the hosts—a very attractive pair who managed to stay slim and youthful despite the lazy lifestyle of the upper crust: one of rich food, servants, and social events. Alice recognized many of the other young women of Duxbury, too, dressed to impress. The whole room seemed on edge. Eyes flitted back and forth. Women whispered behind handheld, feathered fans, all because some spoiled London lord sought a wife.
“Lord Carleton is supposedly an accomplished horseman,” Tilly continued. “I understand local girls have been practicing their skills all week.”
“Good for them.” Alice shook loose of her friend’s grip. “Would you excuse me? I’ll be but a moment.”
“Just some air, Tilly. I am overwhelmed by perfume and arrogance.” She winked and made her way slowly, calmly through the crowd.
Alice knew the Dawson house well, having spent not only parties but also childhood weekends wandering the halls with the now all-married Dawson girls. She knew how to sneak past servants and up a back set of darkened steps that led to the library of the great Lord Dawson himself.
She let herself in and there, as always, on the edge of his desk, she found Dawson’s pile of letters, prepared for the post, to be taken into the city the following morn. Alice reached into her clutch and pulled out a thick letter of her own, addressed to the London Times. She was careful to shove her own envelope between so many others to escape notice. Then, she quickly left the room.
Scattered candles dimly lit the hallway outside the library. A quadrille played below. She hurried to return to the ball, although no one would miss her in such a crowd, except perhaps Gertrude. However, in her haste to turn the corner, she did not notice a man hopping on one foot until she ran into him and almost knocked him over.
She made a small shocked noise.
He was obviously in the midst of getting dressed—or perhaps, redressed? His black suit jacket was on his shoulders, but the top buttons of his white shirt were undone. His tie was loose, as was his vest. He had on one muddy shoe and hopped to get out of the other, leaving a dirty trail behind.
When he felt her, heard her, he paused and stood straight.
His grand height and the unconventional length of his light brown hair surprised Alice. He wore his coif short, scandalously so. She’d never seen a man with such short hair before, and, as it was, so messy. And was that a burr above his ear?
He smiled at her, which was when she noticed his face was covered in dirt.
Alice put her hand to her mouth and laughed at the ridiculous sight of a grown man so closely resembling a naughty little boy.
“Excuse me,” he said and disappeared down the hall with one shoe in-hand … but not before she saw another quick flash of white teeth.
“Where have you been?” Gertrude grabbed her arm as soon as Alice reappeared downstairs. “At least your cheeks look rosy.”
Alice wondered why.
“His Lordship will be making his appearance any moment. You must be prepared.”
Gertrude could not have been more right, for as soon as they arrived in the center of the ballroom, voices hushed. Somewhere, near the grand staircase, Lord Carleton must have emerged.
Tilly stood on Alice’s other side. “Can you see him?”
Although Alice was taller than Tilly, she still couldn’t see over the crowd. “No. Apparently, he is not a giant.” Before Tilly could respond, Gertrude dragged Alice forward. Her auntie was nothing if not ambitious.
Alice knew the order of things: it was imperative they find the receiving line. Gertrude must have assumed the line was on the other side of the stairs, because she kept moving, moving, fast as her little legs would take her, until she brushed against Lord Dawson and suddenly stopped.
Alice’s shoes came to a swift skid on the marble floor, and she found herself staring up into the mischievous, translucent blue eyes of the disheveled man from upstairs. He was not disheveled any longer. His suit, tie, and vest were in perfect condition, and even his too-short hair was more organized and minus the burr.
“Oh. Lady Essex.” Lord Dawson cleared his throat and ran two fingers across his dark moustache. Alice recognized the irritation in his tone, but she was preoccupied, studying the slim, young man before her. “Lady Gertrude Essex, I present to you Lord George Carleton.”
Gertrude grasped tight to the opportunity. “Lord Carleton, may I introduce my niece, Miss Alice Abbott.”
For Alice, the ballroom went silent when their eyes met. She made the immediate decision: she much preferred the man dirty and half-dressed. At the memory of their upstairs meeting, she bit the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing. For his part, Lord Carleton appeared to be attempting the same, although his was a losing battle.
He took a step forward. “Miss Abbott.” His voice was deeper than the Thames.
Out of obligation, she raised her white-gloved hand, which he took and kissed. “Lord Carleton.”
Traditionally, the guest of honor moved swiftly down the line and met everyone in quick succession before round after round of dance and drink. Seemingly, the young lord decided to break with tradition, as he stood there for several moments, studying her. Alice felt her cheeks go warm.
“Are you enjoying yourself this evening, Miss Abbott?” He folded his hands behind his back.
“Surely not as much as you, Lord Carleton.” She bowed her head and looked back up at him.
The amusement never left his face, even as he glanced at her garish necklace. “I see you are a woman of luxurious tastes.”
“Is that a clever way of enquiring as to the status of my dowry, my Lord?”
Gertrude literally croaked like a frog.
Lord Carleton paused and then smiled a huge, joyous grin that made Alice’s breath catch in her chest. The little grin upstairs had been lovely, but this … She felt as if all the blood in her body rushed to her head.
He continued to smile. “A shrewd intellect is worth much more than a dowry, Miss Abbott.”
“Women are not supposed to have intellect, Lord Carleton. We are supposed to have sewing skills.”
Shudders of conversation erupted around them, but the young lord seemed distracted by her words. His light brows furrowed, and he looked at Alice as if he knew her, quite intimately, which made her heart do strange flips and turns she’d never felt before.
He was then ushered away.
Later, after much forced dancing and conversation with other traveling men from London, Alice was back in the carriage where Gertrude shouted and screamed and finally cried with the fear that her niece would ultimately die poor and unmarried.
Alone in her room that night, after the servants dutifully removed the layers of satin and lace—and unbound her breasts from the cruel corset—Alice sat on the floor near the fire and caressed her wrist. Her skin was warm to the touch, she knew, not because of the fire but because of Lord Carleton. He made her insides flutter in a way her intellect never allowed her to entertain. She was quite relieved she would never see him again, although she admitted: she was curious as to why he’d been covered in dirt.
When the letter arrived the next morning, Essex House went into uproar. Lord George Carleton requested a private meeting with Lady Gertrude Essex and her niece, Alice Abbott. He would be there that very afternoon.
Alice held tight to the bedpost; meanwhile, her aunt tugged and groaned as she pulled her corset strings.
“Why on Earth does he want to come … see … me?” Alice grunted as Gertrude continued to tug.
“He’s obviously taken with you.”
“I won’t allow it.”
Gertrude pulled even harder. “What?”
“I won’t allow it. Nothing of the sort. I will be particularly horrible when he arrives to get rid of that horrible man.”
Gertrude stopped tugging, which made Alice close her eyes.
“He didn’t seem very horrible,” her aunt said tauntingly.
Alice spun around. Like a child, she stomped her foot, because there was nothing horrible about Lord George Carleton. In the space of a moment, in fact, Alice thought of several things distinctly not horrible about the man, like his eyes, his smile, the way he’d made her laugh by hopping around on one muddy foot …
“Granted,” Gertrude said, “the young man wears his hair much too short. He smiles too easily for a gentleman. He may seem a bit unconventional, but he is coming here to see you, and you will be on your best behavior.”
(There you go! Just a tease! Read the rest in Romance Magazine.)